Understanding Eating Disorders

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by By Lisa Cannon /

KING5.com

Posted on June 16, 2009 at 8:35 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:52 PM

About the Author

Lisa Cannon has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. She writes about everything from the health benefits of journal writing to the best ways to recycle computer hardware. She lives in beautiful Portland, Ore. >

According to the  , as many as 10 million women and girls and 1 million men and boys in this country are battling eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Millions more are struggling with binge-eating disorders (which are categorized separately from bulimia). Below is an in-depth list of eating disorders--their symptoms, how they're diagnosed, treatment options, and what it's like to live with them.

Anorexia Nervosa What it is: People who suffer from anorexia nervosa refuse to stay at a minimum body weight considered normal for their age and height. They often have an intense fear of weight gain and a distorted body image. They usually eat too little and often exercise too much, which leads to rapid, excessive weight loss.

Behavioral symptoms can include:

  • Losing too much weight--more than 15 percent below normal
  • Using laxatives, enemas or diuretics to lose weight
  • Creating strict (and often hidden) food intake restrictions
  • Compulsive, excessive exercising

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Absence of menstruation
  • Skeletal muscle atrophy
  • Blotchy or yellow skin
  • Low blood pressure

Diagnosis: Diagnosing anorexia is difficult because most individuals suffering from it refuse to recognize that they have a problem. Many people with anorexia also suffer from depression as well.

What it's like: A member struggling with anorexia puts it this way: "I can't stop obsessing about food. I may overeat oatmeal or whole grain crackers, but I still have no self-control."

Treatment: When it comes to treating anorexia, restoring the person to a healthy weight is the first order of business. But that's just the beginning. Next, the psychological issues behind it need to be addressed, and new, healthier patterns of behavior must be established. Individual, group and family-based therapy can help address the reasons for the illness, and research has found that cognitive-behavioral therapy may help prevent the development of eating disorders, or keep them from recurring.

Bulimia Nervosa What it is: Like those with anorexia, bulimics usually fear weight gain, are unhappy about their bodies and generally suffer from depression, anxiety and, sometimes, substance abuse issues.

Bulimia is characterized by cycles of bingeing (eating excessive amounts of food in a short amount of time) and purging (self-induced expulsion of food through vomiting, laxatives, diuretics or enemas). The cycle often starts with strict dieting or excessive exercise. When these regimes fail, it leads to binge eating, purging, and feelings of shame and guilt. The cycle then starts all over again.

Behavioral symptoms can include:

  • Using laxatives, enemas or diuretics to lose weight
  • Rushing to the bathroom right after meals
  • Eating large amounts at one sitting, or hoarding food
  • Compulsive, excessive exercising

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Broken blood vessels in or around the eyes (from vomiting)
  • Inflamed, sore throat and swollen glands in the neck and jaw
  • Dental cavities and tooth decay (caused by self-induced vomiting)
  • Severe dehydration caused by purging fluids

Note: Binge eating, or compulsive overeating, is a separate condition when it exists without the bulimic behaviors (purging). In addition to becoming overweight, bingers can suffer from health complications due to bingeing followed by harsh dieting. Usually, food eaten during a binge is bad for you--high in fat, yet low in protein and nutrients--which could lead to malnourishment and other health problems.

Diagnosis: While it's more common than anorexia, bulimia nervosa can often go undiagnosed because bulimics often fall within the normal weight range for their age, height and body type.

What it's like: As one member put it, "Eating feels like a tightrope act--enough to maintain good health and proper nutrients, and not too much to trigger binge eating. I know once I start eating sweets, it snowballs."

Learn more about risk factors, causes, complications and treatment options in this Health Encyclopedia in-depth report on  . Share words of support on the   with other members and get support from others who have faced eating disorders.

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